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Mixed-Media-Installation, 50 min. Tibetan, English.

The exhibition Shadow Circus revisits an overlooked chapter in Tibet’s history: the armed struggle for freedom and its entanglement in global geopolitics through the CIA. Questions raised will touch upon collective intelligence, surveillance, decolonization, and the post-Cold War world. Filmmakers Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam researched the subject for many years and made a BBC-commissioned documentary – The Shadow Circus: The CIA in Tibet (1998) – that focused on the CIA’s support and betrayal of the Tibetan freedom fighters.
Shadow Circus re-evaluates the audiovisual material that they gathered over the years, and for the first time presents a re-edited version of their documentary, along with photographs, documents, letters, CIA surveillance maps of Tibet, and excerpts from interviews with former CIA agents and guerrilla operatives.

Shadow Circus is part of “Archive außer sich”, a project of Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art in cooperation with Haus der Kulturen der Welt as part of “The New Alphabet”, a HKW project supported by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media due to a ruling of the German Bundestag. Shadow Circus is funded by the Hauptstadtkulturfonds Berlin, Goethe-Institut New Delhi, and the Foundation for Arts Initiatives.

Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam have been working together since their student days in the San Francisco Bay Area. They lived in London for many years working as independent filmmakers, before returning to India in 1996. They are currently based in Dharamshala and Delhi. They have made several documentary films, features, and video installations, which have been shown at international film festivals and in exhibitions. Sarin and Sonam are the directors of the Dharamshala International Film Festival, one of India’s leading independent film festivals.

Production Harry Marshall, Ritu Sarin. Production company White Crane Films (London, United Kingdom). Directed by Tenzing Sonam, Ritu Sarin. Screenplay Tenzing Sonam. Cinematography Steve McCarthy, Ranjan Palit. Editing Eliot McCaffrey. Sound design PM Satheesh. Commissioned by SAVVY Contemporary.


Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam: 1985: The New Puritans: The Sikhs of Yuba City (27 min.). 1988: Films on His Holiness the Dalai Lama. 1991: Footage From the Dalai Lama’s 1991 Visit to Buryatia, Aginski, and Kalmykia, The Reincarnation of Khensur Rinpoche (62 min.). 1992: Tibet (15 min.). 1994: The Trials of Telo Rinpoche (50 min.). 1997: Fish Tales (33 min.). 1998: Footage from the Shadow Circus Shoot, A Stranger in My Native Land (32 min.), The Shadow Circus: The CIA in Tibet (50 min.). 1999: The Lhamo Tsering Photo Archive, Big Treasure Chest for Future Kids (26 min.). 2000: rights…& wrongs (video installation, 5 min.). 2005: Dreaming Lhasa (90 min.). 2007: Some Questions on the Nature of Your Existence (26 min.), The Thread of Karma (50 min.). 2008: Middle Way or Independence? (video installation), Footage From the Sun Behind the Clouds Shoot, Footage from Tibet: 1995, 2005 & 2008. 2009: A Tibet of the Mind (video installation, 15 min.), The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom (79 min.). 2011: Mud Stone Slate Bamboo (video installation, 17 min.). 2012: When Hari Got Married (75 min.). 2015: Taking Tiger Mountain By Storm (video installation, 5 min.), Burning Against the Dying of the Light (video installation). 2017: Drapchi Elegy (17 min.). 2018: The Sweet Requiem (91 min.). 2019: Shadow Circus.

Photo: © White Crane Films/Lhamo Tsering Archives

Funded by:

  • Logo Minister of State for Culture and the Media
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